Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Nagra ARES-M

Thanks to a tip from Ward Weis, I realise that Nagra has come out with an update to their "asthma monitor" recorder Ares-PII (so called because I got the recorder past Nigerian customs by saying it was to measure my lung capacity as someone who suffers from allergies. No, that wasn't a microphone". I bought an ARES-PII when I worked for Radio Netherlands and we tested it in the field many times.

The shape was a bit off putting for some people - although the recordings with the capsule microphone were superb. However, at nearly 2000 Euro (when you had purchased all the accessories that were really essential) it was hard to justify the cost/quality, alongside other flash recorders from people like Maycom and Mayah.

The new recorder is MUCH smaller (more like the size of a mobile phone or the original I-pod) and retails at US$995 on some US websites, including the dynamic microphone. It seems this product was announced on May 26th 2005. I did ask at the Nagra stand at IBC 2005 in September, but they didn't show me this, only the older Ares-PII+

The Oades brothers audio forum points out that the 1 GB memory is internal and NOT removable. Although that means the card is less likely to be lost, it means you have to use the Mini USB cable to connect to the laptop to transfer the audio. Oades reports the transfer speed is VERY slow...says it takes
15 minutes to copy a 30 minute 16/48 stereo WAV file
(about 330MB). If correct, that's going to be a serious problem for news journalists in the field who want to keep the audio in the digital domain.

On the plus side, the Nagra ARES-M is extremely small and light (similar to the I-pod), but offering a thousand times better audio quality (I-pod restricts the audio quality of recordings to 8 kb/sec - ludicrous. Yes, there is a hack, but it voids the warranty). There is a built-in FM radio (though the press release doesn't say whether you can record directly from the radio. It works on 2 AA batteries and can store up to 10 hours of (stereo) audio onto the 1 GB memory.

The first production units will be shipped from Switzerland in November 2005, according to Nagra who phoned me this morning. I hope to do a side-by-side with the M-audio in mid-November. It is pointless reviewing the prototypes....if there are problems, manufacturers will blame you for testing a pre-launch model. I am only interested in what the average user will find. Watch this space for our independent evaluation.

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